Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Sea Inside (Cerulean Songs #1) - Vickie Johnstone

If you could escape your troubles by going to an alternate reality, would you? And would the problems you find there be worse than the ones you left behind?

As The Sea Inside opens, Jayne is in a hospital, recovering from an accident that robbed her of the ability to walk. She is approached there by a mysterious woman, who offers her an escape -- a crystal that, it turns out, transports Jayne to a magical land where everything is blue, people live under the sea, and she can walk again. There, she meets the love of her life.

Returned to her home world against her will, Jayne wants to go back. Only (of course!) time moves differently there; even if she succeeds, things may be very different from when she left.

Still, she has to try.

I found The Sea Inside to be an appealing fantasy novel -- and not just because blue is my favorite color. I'm looking forward to seeing where Johnstone takes her story in future installments.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Kitty in the Underworld - Carrie Vaughn

I'm always interested to see how an author of a long-running series keeps her stories fresh. This is the 12th outing for Vaughn's Kitty Norville, a late-night radio talk show host in Denver who also happens to be a werewolf. I absolutely loved the first book (she had me at Denver and radio -- the shapeshifter thing was a bonus) and I have mostly enjoyed the others (the book set in Las Vegas didn't really grab me). But when you get to dozen outings with the same, uh, pack, you might begin to have some trouble delivering.

Vaughn stayed close to home with this book, and went minimalist in a way. While husband Ben (who, for the uninitiated, is also a werewolf, as well as a lawyer -- oh stop, they are not the same thing) is away on a business trip, Kitty is lured up into the mountains by the scent of a couple of werebeasts encroaching on her pack's territory. She's tranquilized and captured, and sucked against her will into a cockamamie scheme to try to defeat Roman, the vampire who's playing to win the Long Game (vampires vs. werewolves, with world domination as the prize). Her captors believe Kitty is an avatar of Regina Luporum, the legendary wolf who suckled the eventual founders of Rome; Kitty has already been drawn to her, and believes she too may have been a werewolf. (I bring this up because I expect it will come up again in future books.)

Kitty spends a good chunk of this book locked away in the dark. That could be a problem in terms of driving the plot, but Vaughn throws her readers enough bones that I was willing to stick it out. Still, I enjoy the interplay between Kitty, Ben, and Ben's cousin Cormac (and his ride-along witch, Amanda), and that was mostly missing here.

I found Kitty in the Underworld to be an enjoyable read. But Kitty and Roman are going to have to meet in epic battle sooner or later, and I wonder how much longer Vaughn will draw her own Long Game out.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Uncertainty Principles - Krista Tibbs

What if you could predict the future? What responsibility would you have to try to stop bad things from happening? And what effect would your intervention have on the course of future events? Those are the issues Tibbs's characters struggle with in this engaging novel.

An eclectic group of college seniors is assigned, seemingly at random, to work together on a project that must be completed before they can graduate. Aiyana is the driven one; Brian is the baseball player/science nerd; Becky is the religious, most-likely-to-marry-and-stay-home one; Kai is the slacker; and Dmitri is the quirky genius. The project must be their own design, and they flounder around, trying to find something that will suit. In the process, they stumble upon a method of predicting world-changing events by measuring energy fluctuations in the atmosphere. Becky believes it proves the existence of God; Aiyana, the atheist, thinks the whole thing is crazy; and Brian is obsessed with getting scientific proof. Things go wrong in spectacular fashion -- so much so that you would think the five would run screaming in opposite directions after graduation and never see one another again.

But somehow, they all end up living near one another, and Becky and Aiyana even become friends. When Brian predicts an event of mass murder in the town where they live now, the group comes together again to set things right. Or not. The plot resolves, but uncertainty plays a big part in everything that happens -- right through the epilogue, which features two separate interpretations of the final scene.

Tibbs' writing is solid and the science seems plausible. If you like your stories tied up in a neat bow at the end, Uncertainty Principles probably won't be your cup of tea. But if you enjoy weighing what-ifs and varying points of view, you may very well enjoy this book. I did.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

When Rosa Came Home - Karen Wyld

I loved this book. Let me just say that right upfront.

Little Angelita Ambrosio knows it's going to be a special day as soon as she wakes up and looks out her bedroom window: "Breathing in, I was greeted by a heady mix of lavender, sandalwood, rose attar, buttery-popcorn and sawdust and, despite the ocean being many miles away, salted air." And then Rosa -- the sister Angelita never knew she had -- is brought home.

Rosa had been estranged from her family for many years, and she arrives now in a coma-like state. So it's left for her many visitors to fill in the details of her extraordinary life. Circus performers, a sea captain, a sort of voodoo doctor, a snake, a horse, and twin nurses who crochet magic blankets all tell their tales, after their own fashion, and all within Angelita's earshot. Eventually, we learn why Angelita's eldest sister is so sullen, and why Angelita never knew Rosa existed until the day she came home.

This is very much a work of magic realism. Wyld deftly weaves magic into the world of her charming story and makes it seem as natural as the grass or sky. Think of Marquez without the heavy symbolism, or Like Water for Chocolate without the heavy breathing. I guessed the family secret long before Angelita cottons on to it, but never mind that. In this book, the journey to the little girl's discovery is half the fun.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Properties of Light: A Hypernovel - Linton Robinson

Here's a new kind of ebook for your New Year.

Imagine that you're wandering the streets of Seattle, when you come across a display of photographs -- racks and racks of them tacked up on wooden easels. You learn that an award-winning photographer has set up shop here to sell off his stock. As you peruse the photos, the man himself -- who is somewhat of a local legend -- tells you a little story about each of them. You can wander at will amongst the display, seeing a color or form or image here that draws you to a similar color or form or image a row down. Or you can start at one end and simply go up and down the racks, looking at everything in order. And always, the photographer is at your elbow, spinning his stories about his work.

Now take that scenario, but remove the photos and just leave the stories, complete with their tenuous thematic links. Then put them in an ebook. That, in a nutshell, is the concept behind Properties of Light.

Linton Robinson -- who did, in fact, work as a photographer in Seattle for a while -- wrote this book in 1990, well before the technology existed to make the novel's concept work. Each of these 100 flash fiction pieces is hyperlinked in multiple ways to other pieces in the book. Sometimes, following the links will build a narrative, but depending on how you click the links, the experience of reading the book will be different every time.

Some of the stories made me wish they had been illustrated; others, particularly the more gruesome ones, made me glad they weren't. But I appreciated the author's effort, as well as the fascinating tour. Properties of Light highlights the possibilities inherent in the ebook medium. It's definitely worth a look.

Happy 2014, everybody.